This elegant and intimate downtown landmark might be surrounded by Paula Deen Inc., but it hasn’t let any chicken-fried influence creep into its decidedly metropolitan menu. Chef Christopher Nason pays due homage to Southern flavors but doesn’t hesitate to score ingredients from the freshest sources. His winter menu is one of my favorites. Choose from dishes like pan–roasted squab, braised pork cheeks and Chanterelle mushrooms, a savory, richly–flavored ensemble that makes my mouth water just recalling the meal. The benne–encrusted black grouper pairs two favorite coastal flavors — benne seed and grouper, then adds aromatic serving of Jasmine rice, crisp wok–seared vegetables and Asian–influenced splashes of sesame and soy. With a bit of an old–school supper club feel, it’s also easy to migrate to the restaurant’s classic a la carte menu. This is the place where beef–lovers can score a classic steak cut and seafood fans will find fresh grouper, shrimp, scallops and succulent tuna. A la carte sides are ample enough to share. Season your choices with sprinkles from the exotic salt sampler — a feature unique to Sapphire Grill. Seating is adequate for couples seeking intimacy or small groups celebrating the season. A well–stocked bar and talented bartender means awesome cocktails — and Sapphire’s wine list ranks among the best in the city.
110 W. Congress St./443–9962
Loco’s Grill and Pub
Holiday shoppers wanting to leave more greenbacks for gifting and less for eating out might want to duck into either the downtown or Southside locations of this popular casual dining restaurant. That’s what I did last weekend — and I landed a nice value with a Crazy Club sandwich. The triple–decked wheat bread sandwich is filled with classic Club ingredients: Ham, smoked turkey, smokey bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. I had my pick of a variety of side dishes, but settled for the comforting flavor of mass–market French fries — a hot, tender childhood favorite. You can ramp it up on the Loco’s menu, but frankly, I was impressed by the chain’s obvious desire to fill a big portion of the menu’s real estate with good values, solid dishes and minimal gimmickry. I was ecstatic about the quick, efficient service and steady refills on my soft drink.
301 W. Broughton St./236–8711
8108 Abercorn St./921–1741